Stunted growth linked to malnutrition and climate change

Other USGS research is helping to identify the impacts of a changing climate on Africa's people. Scientists recently discovered that malnutrition and dry hot living conditions are linked to stunted growth in Mali, West Africa.

USGS research found that Mali was becoming substantially warmer and a little bit drier. Scientists also knew that farmers and those who make a living raising sheep, cattle, goats, or camels were poor, and that stunted growth was occurring throughout Mali.

Scientists wondered if there could be a link between human health and increasingly warm and dry conditions.

To investigate, the USGS worked with the University of California, Santa Barbara, to study climate observations and demographic and health data. The Demographic and Health Survey program routinely compiles data from surveys in 90 countries to study trends in health and population. Scientists analyzed statistics on specific villages in Mali and found that there was a link between a warmer climate and increased stunting.

Population growth combined with the impacts of warming will further increase these health impacts.

Stunting was also linked to other factors, such as mother's education and the water supply system. Women’s education, improved water supplies, and agricultural development could help to address malnutrition and stunting in Mali.

An article on this research was published in in the journal, Applied Geography, by San Diego State University, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the USGS.

Other studies underway

Other new research includes the discovery that the warming of the Indian and western Pacific oceans (which is linked to global warming) affects rainfall over large areas of the Horn of Africa. As the globe has warmed over the last century, the Indian Ocean and western Pacific have warmed especially fast.

The resulting warmer air and increased humidity over the Indian and western Pacific oceans produce more frequent rainfall in that region. The air loses its moisture during rainfall, and then flows westward and descends over Africa, leading to decreased rain in parts of eastern Africa. Trends toward increased frequency of drought that we are seeing now are likely to continue into the future as warming continues.

A few recent articles on this research were published in the journal, Climate Dynamics, by scientists with the USGS, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Los Alamos National Laboratory. The most recent article concludes that global warming will lead to a decrease in rainfall during the summer monsoon season, from June to September, across southern Sudan, southern Ethiopia, and northern Uganda. Another article concluded that eastern Africa, particularly Kenya and southern Ethiopia, will also have a significant decrease in rainfall during the long-rains season from March to June.

USGS scientists are working hard to translate these technical studies into reports for decision makers. To date, they have completed summary fact sheets focused on Sudan and Kenya.

Scientists also found that some regions, like northern Ethiopia, are not getting drier due to current warming temperatures. Rainfall varies dramatically across all of eastern Africa, with high mountainous areas typically receiving many times the rainfall received in low-lying areas. Therefore, agricultural growth in these climatically safe regions could help offset rainfall declines in other locations.

Start with science

Scientists are looking at clues and changes in nature to understand the impacts of global warming. In Africa, impacts are seen across the landscape -- on farms and even in humans.

By starting with science, well-informed decisions can be made to help Africa as it faces drought, famine, and health concerns.

FEWS NET partners include the USAID, Chemonics International, the USGS, NASA, NOAA, and the USDA. The Geography Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is a partner to the USGS in this effort.